Green cities with plenty of space for humans and nature, wild nature accessible to all of us, strong and supportive communities, a healthy planet for human and non-human beings… these are things that I wish for the future.
People often perceive me as a dreamer and somewhat unworldly with nice but utopian ideas. How could these things ever work? To most people, such ideas seem completely unrealistic. People cannot imagine how these things could work. So they don’t even try.
But what if Einstein was right when he said the following?
If we want to change something we have to challenge the status quo. And maybe the craziest and weirdest ideas will turn out to be the best ones in the end. By reimagining our planet and our societies we can change them for the better.
Imagination: our ally for change
Imagination is a powerful tool if we want change. It can be our ally and it can be our enemy. We need the imagination to resolve problems. But when we lack imagination it can have the opposite effect and be the biggest obstacle to solving a problem.
Because, if we cannot imagine how things could be different (better), we may never be able to change them.
Many great projects start with imagination and a vision. Think of an architect designing a house, or a gardener planning a garden. Such projects usually start with an idea and imagination.
With the right tools, these ideas can be shown to people. Plans in the form of drawings or animations are a great tool to help other people imagining these ideas too and support them. If you cannot convince people of how amazing the house or garden you designed is, they won’t hire you.
Imagination is important in any field and the engine behind the change. In environmental communication, imagination and the visualization of new ideas plays an important role to inspire people and make them open to new ideas.
Imagination to change the cityscape
Let’s take a look at an example: cities.
Cities are vibrant places full of life, diversity, and opportunities. There are theatres and cinemas, museums, shops and cafés and restaurants, community centres, libraries, and educational institutions. Living is a city can be very inspiring.
But from a nature perspective, cities also resemble concrete deserts for the most part. There are few green spaces except for a few rather boring city parks.
Cities are noisy and have poor air quality. They are car-dominated and every morning we get stuck in traffic on our way to work. Many roads are so busy that cycling becomes a dangerous means of transportation and we are worried about letting our kids play outside. Cold winter days with snow can get chaotic causing us a lot of stress and we dread those hot summer days when life in the city becomes unbearable.
Cities are vibrant. But crowdedness, stressfulness, and a lack of nature make many of us feel depressed. We feel the urge to escape the city at least once in a while. Because outside of the city we can slow down, breathe and relax.
Change can be scary
But that’s just how city life is right? It is vibrant and energetic and if you are in need of some calmness you leave the city. That’s what holidays and weekend trips are for.
Cities co-evolved with the needs of modern-day lives. They are designed to serve a life style that many of us wouldn’t want to change.
But why not? Change happens anyways and change does not mean giving up. It could mean adding things we like and getting rid of the things we don’t like. The more thought we put into it, the more we can influence the way things change.
Space for people and nature
In the context of cities people start realizing that we are missing something. We are missing space for nature, green urban spaces that do our mental health well. With increasing environmental awareness we also wish for our cities to be more environmentally friendly.
The solution is quite easy. Why should we leave the city to get closer to nature? Instead, we could bring nature to the city. To many people, it may seem that nature and urban spaces are mutually exclusive. But that’s a fallacy. Of course, cities will never be as wild as places far away from human civilization. But that doesn’t mean that we couldn’t make our cities a lot greener than they are now.
I invite you to reimagine cities, as we know them. Let’s use our imagination to change them.
We could get rid of cars and replace roads by bicycle lanes and space for good public transport. Let’s bring back trees and plants and create more space for people, community gardens, cafés, markets, cultural sites, shops…
The benefits would be manifold. Better air quality and city climate, improved mental health, and more community spaces just to name a few. Our cities would be more nature-friendly. But more importantly, they would also be more people-friendly.
Imagination to communicate and promote change
Check out this animation by Jan Kamensky to get an idea of how our cities could look like if we would get rid of cars and make more space for people and nature.
Such animations are a result of imaginative power and a great way to communicate a vision. They make ideas more tangible and show us a different possible reality, something we can work towards to.
In two minutes Jan Kamensky manages to share his vision of a bike- and people- friendly city. Like this, he shares his imagination with us. If you would like to see more of his work make sure to check out his vimeo channel. If you like what he does, you can support his work also via patreon.
Imagination becomes practice
But greener cities do not only exist in some people’s imagination. In some parts of the world, these visions led to change and have already become reality, at least partially.
Think of the famous example of Singapore. The city aims to be the world’s greenest and is making a good impression on that. Green roofs, cascading vertical gardens and verdant walls are an essential part of the cityscape.
The High Line in New York City, a roughly 2km long elevated linear park created on a former New York Central Railroad spur is another example of how to make more space for nature in modern cities.
A few months ago Paris agreed to turn Champs Élysées into ‘extraordinary garden’ with plenty of space for people rather than cars. I am really excited to see that happen.
Imagination and creativity are needed to promote change and push ideas of integrating nature into our cityscapes. Urban rewilding and the blending of nature with city life could not only result in healthier and happier urban communities. It could also be part of the solution to global environmental problems such as climate change and biodiversity loss.
We need imagination for change and it doesn’t stop with reimagining cities. To fight climate change, biodiversity decline, and pollution, we also have to reimagine other land- and seascapes. We need ideas and visions and ideas of how to combine modern ways of life with nature. And we have to communicate them.